Gillett Square\

A unique place in the heart of Dalston

This community-led regeneration project for Hackney Co-Operative Developments is internationally recognised as a model for future social regeneration.

A Square for Dalston

Hawkins\Brown started working on Gillett Square in the 1990s. At the time it was a disused car park surrounded by derelict buildings, inhabited by drinkers and drug dealers, and avoided by the local community. The challenge, to transform it into a public space where local people of all ages could come together.

Making it Happen

The idea of a public square in Dalston had been discussed locally over many years as part of a community wide consultation by Groundwork East London and Hackney Cooperative Developments. We worked in close partnership with these groups to prepare a masterplan, that would realise this vision, of a sustainable community-led space to represent local cultures and ethnic groups, and provide a catalyst for investment.

With HCD we established the Gillett Square Partnership, bringing together the private sector, local authority and voluntary sector to establish a vision and a business plan for the square, and to project manage its construction.

“As the first to receive funding and reach completion, it shows that with good planning, design and attention to careful landscaping, we can improve many of London’s run down but precious open spaces and turn them into places we want to go and pass time in, rather than to avoid.”

Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London

A Project of Many Parts

The first phase of the project was the retention and repair of the derelict Victorian terrace in Bradbury Street. We helped to raise funds to convert these to workshops, studios and shops, and designed and built a circular building at the entrance of the square to house HCD’s headquarters. By introducing market pods, we established local trading, and further funding enabled us to convert two derelict terraced buildings into the Dalston Culture Club, which attracted the Vortex Jazz Club, introducing a popular destination and 24/7 activity into the area.

To support and connect these new buildings, we converted the derelict car park into a new town square; knitting together the surrounding buildings and providing communal outdoor space for performances and teaching. In 2006 Gillett Square was opened as the first of the London Mayor’s programme of 100 new public spaces for London.

Capturing the Journey

An Arts Council sponsored project enabled us to work alongside photographer Andrew Cross, to record and explore the nature of the Square before and after the redevelopment. It captures the dramatic transition from an unsafe “back lot” in Hackney to an accessible and popular place for the community to meet, shop, celebrate and take political action.

“An urban souk”

The Sunday Times

  • Project Details
  • Project Update
  • Collaboration
  • Sustainability
  • Lessons Learnt
  • Social value

Project Summary

Project Team

Hawkins\Brown: Architects, Urban Designers, Arts Consultants, Community Entrepreneurs, Contract Administrator
Whitelaw Turkington: Landscape Architects
London Borough of Hackney Term Contracting: Contractors


  • WAN Awards 2012 - Effectiveness - Winner

Project Update

Having completed two sides of the square, and a new housing scheme for the third, Hawkins|Brown and HCD are currently seeking funding and development options to extend the square. The Gillett Square Partnership continues to generate private, voluntary and public sector partnerships, and has evolved to become the management and event organising team for the Square.


Crucial to the story of the making of Gillett Square is a unique collaboration between client and architect, which spans over 20 years, and is ongoing today. Our work with HCD has taken place within a set of public values in which the continuum of culture and community have remained the over-riding goals. The strong and inspiring vision for the Square has meant that the work we have carried out together goes beyond the normal money/ labour values.

“It’s no longer seen as a dangerous place. People stop here and have lunch; mothers and children come through on the way back from school; and we also have skateboarders, radio-controlled cars, mini-handball and dance rehearsals here. We can do all these events because the square has been designed to be flexible.”

Adam Hart, Development Director/ Executive Director, Hackney Co-Operative Developments


The project was designed to contribute to the long-term economic, cultural and political sustainability of the local community by building on the area’s unique cultural capital. As well as physically redeveloping the site, to reduce crime and provide employment and housing, the scheme included building an innovative, devolved management organisation, the Gillett Square Partnership, to establish long term engagement with a wider economic and cultural market, and allow for longer-term economic development and neighbourhood renewal.

Lessons Learnt

For us, Gillett Square has been a master class in community architecture and the importance of collaborative working to create effective pubic realm spaces. Gillett Square has been cited in much research as a model for future social regeneration and has received much recognition for its creative and inclusive design. It was recently part of the New London Architecture exhibition on important public spaces, and winner of the World Architecture News Effectiveness Award.

Social value

Our approach to social value goes way beyond architecture, it’s about improving the social, environmental, and economic wellbeing of places to positively transform people’s lives, all while delivering commercial value for our clients.

Our researcher Michael Riebel, with the support of experts Hatch/Regeneris, has revisited six of our completed projects including Gillett Square and applied a broad range of socio-economic metrics. You can download the case study here

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